Ludgershall Castle, Wiltshire


★★

Panorama of Ludgershall Castle
Tower remains, low wall remnants and earthworks, from a small, 12th century castle frequented by Henry III
Management
Entry
Free
Location
On the north side of Ludgershall, 7 miles from Andover
Ludgershall Castle is a relatively small fortification, not involved in any military campaigns, instead used mostly as a royal hunting lodge, in particular by kings John and Henry III. It has been abandoned for over 500 years, and during most of this time the only visible remnant was the ruined great tower, though foundations of other rooms were uncovered during archaeological excavations in the 1960s.

At its peak in the 14th century, the castle consisted of the three story tower, five residential chambers, two chapels and several other rooms, plus a great hall, all situated on the north side of a large protected area, the bailey, which was enclosed by two parallel embankments separated by deep ditches, extending nearly a thousand feet north to south. The bailey also contained various timber buildings of which no trace remains, but probably included kitchens, stables and servants' quarters. Near the castle were two areas of parkland, used for hunting; a small area to the north, leading to an ancient medieval forest beyond, and a larger expanse a little way south, on the far side of the adjacent (Saxon) village.

Today, the majority of the earthworks survive, though all the central section of the bailey is occupied by a farm, including most of the site of the great hall; just a short section of the eastern wall of this survives, close to the main group of rooms, consisting of the tower and the foundations of the chambers. All the original smooth ashlar cladding of the walls is missing, instead only the rough, central sections remain, formed of irregularly-shaped stones, mostly flint, similar to the castle at Old Sarum, 15 miles southwest.

The site is managed by English Heritage as Ludgershall Castle and Cross. Admission is free, there are no facilities, and it takes only about half an hour to view the ruins and walk the quarter of a mile loop along the encircling ditch. The cross is an unconnected feature, the lower half of a 14th century stone monument, along the high street, its faces adorned with weathered carvings. The cross is enclosed by metal railings and is not particularly interesting to look at.



The Ruins


Parking is available along Castle Street, just off the A342 on the north side of Ludgershall. This road continues a short distance to the castle, the farm and another private home, while the ruins can also be reached by paths east and west, running along the main ditch of the defences, between the two embankments. Towards the south edge of the protected area are several other mounds, thought to be from an Iron Age hill fort that was built here many centuries before the castle. The detached section of the ruins is the lower part of the east wall of the great hall, including the base of a doorway, while the main part is centred on the great tower, of which about half the walls survive to a substantial height, including a turret at the northeast corner and a chimney to the southwest. Adjoining the tower in the centre of the structure are foundations of the king's chamber, originally underneath a chapel, and the prince's chamber beyond (built by Henry III for his son Edward), these beside the queen's chamber and a latrine to the north, and other chambers to the south.



History


The first castle at Ludgershall, partly on the site of the (presumed) Iron Age fort, was built towards the end of the 11th century by Edward of Salisbury, Sheriff of Wiltshire, and had become Crown property a few decades later, under the management of John the Marshal (died 1165); he began construction of buildings in stone, a process that continued during the reign of King John. The tower and the central chamber date from this period, while other rooms were added at intervals over the next 150 years, during which time the castle was frequently used by the royal family as a seasonal residence and as a base for hunting. Henry III was particularly attached to the castle, staying here on over 20 occasions, and it was he who oversaw addition of the great hall. Royal use declined at the end of the 14th century, and most of the rooms were removed in the 1540s; only the tower was retained, seemingly as an ornamental garden feature for a recently built manor house.